A friend of a friend told me the other day that the workaround on the New York Times‘ paywall no longer works. There are still apparently ways to get Times content for free, but the big loophole, the one that allowed you to read anything you wanted with minimal hassle and in unlimited quantities, has been closed. Though snarky observers have long made fun of the Times for allowing such easy workarounds (all you had to do was delete a string of characters in the address bar of your browser), it’s absurd to imagine that the company didn’t factor the loopholes into their digital strategy.
The 10-free-articles-per-month policy has, until now, functioned primarily on the basis of guilt. The paper has been trying out an honor system–take all you want, but really, if you’re taking more than 10 articles per month, you should be paying–and it has apparently worked. The New York Times Co.’s most recent quarterly earnings figures, reported the week before last, thrilled at least some analysts, with digital-subscription revenue accounting for double-digit growth in the quarter and, for the first time in the company’s history, exceeding advertising revenue.
The plugging of the workaround, then, seems a clear sign that the company has reached an important threshold, in terms of its confidence in its digital-subscription strategy. Subscriptions are going to be increasingly important in the overall revenue picture, and the Times is relatively certain in its ability to get people to pay for them. They may have needed freeloaders for a while–if nothing else, freeloaders provided valuable data about the paper’s potential customer base–but they don’t need freeloaders now.
Maybe another major workaround will be uncovered. I doubt it, though. I suspect that we’re witnessing an important moment in the evolution of digital journalism.